A gripping memoir has the capacity to take readers on a journey of a person’s life and experiences. Memoirs tend to be not so much of an autobiography but a glimpse into a slice of your life. My book of the month choice for May is about William Fagaly who while growing up in rural Indiana during World War II began his first venture―collecting and selling earthworms (or nightcrawlers) to locals A nightcrawler is a terrestrial worm that burrows into and helps aerate soil; often surfaces when the ground is cool or wet. These lovely creatures are used as bait by anglers and can grow in lengths of up to 14 inches. With a keen business acumen and these wriggly creatures from childhood, Fagaly begins his story.
The Nightcrawler King: Memoirs of an Art Museum Curator is a narrative of Fagaly’s life; beginning with his childhood and scholastic achievements and moving to his transformation into an art museum curator and administrator of the New Orleans Museum of Art. This memoir gives a peek into Bill’s career at the then Isaac Delgado Museum of Art which also coincided with the dramatic growth of museums in the United States.
The Nightcrawler King documents Fagaly’s fifty years of experience of work in the art world much of it spent at NOMA. He played an active role in the discovery and appreciation of new areas of art, particularly African, self-taught, and avant-garde contemporary. He organized numerous significant art exhibitions that traveled to museums across the country and authored the accompanying catalogs.
The art plays a central role in his book, but the more fascinating parts were his cherished memories and the wonderful people who have touched his life from friends and family to university professors, museum colleagues, art historians, visual artists, musicians, art dealers, art collectors, patrons, and partners.
There are lots of names of the famous and infamous in this book which also details his travels around the globe as well as in his own backyard – the Louisiana bayous. Although he shies away from getting into gossip (which I personally would have loved to read more about), he gives just enough to pique your interest on both local, national and international celebrities.
It is a slice of history of our city as told from a different vantage point. He wonderfully meshes the growth and changes of the city with the expansion of NOMA and the growth of the art scene here. As a consummate walker (normally a homosexual man who escorts older, richer women to social functions and trips – think GBF in the day) of some of the most influential society women in the city, Fagaly was privy to the heartbeat of the city.For those art lovers and New Orleans history buffs, The Nightcrawler King is a fascinating read of a man who opened the eyes of the city to the art of some of the most prestigious artists in the world.